Provocative Article

Which most writing about environmentalism seems so lately, from City Journal.

An excerpt.

“It is a sad irony that the teaching of science in American schools is so unscientific. In a more rational world, children would learn about nature and a mode of inquiry—the scientific method—that would awaken them to the awe, fascination, and surprise that the universe should inspire. Instead, the chronic problems afflicting K–12 education and the growing politicization of science have pushed us ever further from that ideal.

“Science has been misused and poorly taught for centuries. Capitalists in the United Kingdom espoused eugenics, Soviet Communists embraced Lysenkoism, and theists around the world credit the theory of Intelligent Design. The most enduring betrayal of science in the classroom today is biased teaching about the environment. Whereas eugenics was fueled by fear among the rich that the poor would overwhelm them, the fallacies of green education emanate from fear on the left that fossil-fuel companies and capitalism are ruining the planet. This fear has suffused curricula since the 1970s with an ever-growing list of alarms: pesticides, smog, water pollution, forest fires, species extinction, overpopulation, famine, rain forest destruction, natural resource scarcity, ozone depletion, acid rain, and the great absorbing panic of our time: global warming.

“The choice and treatment of these topics reflect a worldview that teachers absorb early in their training. The mission of education, they’re told, is not to teach knowledge but to seek justice and make the world a better place. Their task is to show students that we are destroying the environment and to empower them to help save it, primarily through government action.

“These premises inform everything about environmental education: the standards of learning that states impose on school districts; the position statements from the associations of science teachers; the course work and texts in education schools; the training that educators receive throughout their careers; and the textbooks, lesson plans, field trips, and homework assigned in all grades.

“One review of textbooks used in secondary schools concludes:

“For the moment at least, ecological doomsayers rule the cultural roost. Fire-and-brimstone logic is combined with fear-and-doomsday psychology in textbooks around the country. [The story] could be retold tens of thousands of times, about children in public and private schools, in high schools and at elementary levels, with conservative and with liberal teachers, in wealthy neighborhoods and in poor. A tidal wave of pessimism has swept across the country, leaving in its wake grief, despair, immobility, and paralysis. . . . Why should our students be misled?

“The moment was 1983. The passage is from Why Are They Lying to Our Children?, a book by the late Herbert London, then president of the Hudson Institute. “The materials in environmental education have nothing to do with environmental science. . . . [T]hey are wholly political,” London wrote three years later in a teacher guidebook, Visions of the Future. “The effects are pernicious. It is no longer possible to have a sensible discussion. You cannot talk about historical perspective or risk/benefit tradeoffs. You have to follow the utopian path.”

“In 1993, Garbage magazine ran a lengthy review of teaching materials and practices. The headline asked: “Environmental Education: Is It Science, Civics—or Propaganda?” The author, Patricia Poore, wrote:

“I was struck by the repetitive topics, the emphasis on social problems rather than science background, and the call to activism.…

“Perhaps most significant in these books is what’s not included: Every chapter devoted to elephant extinction or garbage crowds out a rich array of important environmental basics. Perpetuation of outdated assumptions is rampant in what is included. The piecemeal curriculum contains oversimplification and myth, has little historical perspective, is politically oriented, and is strongly weighted toward a traditional environmentalist viewpoint, i.e., emphasizing limits to growth, distrust of technology, misinformation concerning waste management, and gloomy (if not doomsday) scenarios. . . .

“What is even more striking than the imperfect content of the curriculum, however, is its apocalyptic tone.

“Perhaps the most influential critics of environmental education were Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw, whose book Facts Not Fear: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children about the Environment (1996) sold 100,000 copies. (Chapter titles include “Trendy Schools,” “At Odds with Science,” and “The Recycling Myth.”) Sanera also published detailed content analyses of environmental science resources for K–12 students and of the textbooks and syllabi used in colleges of education. The authors found the same biases, mistakes, and omissions that Poore and London had found. A major study by the Independent Commission on Environmental Education, Are We Building Environmental Literacy?, reached similar conclusions.

Politicizing Science Education, a report in 2000 by the biologist Paul Gross, found that environmental education lacked rigor: “Too often the science goes begging. Environmental education becomes attitude adjustment. Students learn about such things as primitive paragons of eco-wisdom—indigenous peoples, for example—‘living in harmony with nature’; or about the ecological Satans, development and industrialization; or of Earth poisoned in its air, water, and soil. But they do not learn much of the science needed for scientific understanding.”

“Though characteristically American in its fretfulness and zeal, the unwavering focus by teachers on crises and advocacy is not entirely homegrown. It was animated by a series of conferences and declarations orchestrated by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in the 1970s. UNESCO’s Belgrade Charter in 1975 called for “a worldwide environmental education program” to help mount “an all-out attack on the world’s environmental crisis.” All efforts will be short-lived, the charter declared, unless “the youth of the world receives a new kind of education”—one that begins in pre-K, is interdisciplinary, and emphasizes “active participation in preventing and solving environmental problems.” For the U.S. teacher eager to remedy injustice and alleviate suffering, UNESCO’s rhetoric ratified the progressive ideals that education schools have taught for decades.”

Retrieved February 4, 2021 from Science Betrayed | City Journal (

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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